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5G and flight Safety

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    25th Jan, 2022

Context

Flights to the United States from India resumed as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared the landing of more aircraft even in low-visibility conditions, despite the rollout of C-band 5G technology.

  •  C-band spectrum range is very close to the 4.2-4.4 GHz range in which radio or radar altimeters operate.

About

What is the matter?

  • The FAA warned that the rollout of new 5G technology by AT&T and Verizon (two of the biggest wireless communications service providers in the US) in the allotted 3.7-3.98 GHz (gigahertz) band could potentially lead to interference with onboard instruments such as radar altimeters.
  • Commercial passenger and cargo airlines had also warned of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis if the rollout of 5G went ahead as planned.
  • The deployment of 5G by AT&T and Verizon has triggered concern among airlines, who have said that the frequencies used by the telecom companies is very close to the frequencies used by onboard instruments such as radar altimeters, which operate in the 4.2-4.4 GHz range.

Radar altimeters

  • The radio or radar altimeter is a very small, low-power radar system that operates in the 4.2-4.4 GHz frequency microwave C-band. 
  • The high frequency of these altimeters enable aircraft makers to install small antennae that produce powerful signals that can be relayed quickly and accurately.
  • For all airborne vehicles — an aircraft, spacecraft, or even a missile — an altimeter is crucial to gauge the altitude and the distance covered.
  • Altimeters are of three main kinds: 
    • barometric
    • laser
    • radio or radar altimeters
  • Most commercial passenger and cargo aircraft use a combination of all these altimeters along with a global positioning system (GPS) to determine their path, as well as factors such as: 
    • height above sea level
    • presence of highrises, mountains, and other obstacles
    • the likely flying time

Progress of 5G in India

  • In India, where 5G is yet to be rolled out, the frequency range for 5G telecoms operations is pegged around 3.3-3.68 GHz. 
  • It is learnt that the Federation of Indian Pilots has, in its meetings with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), expressed concern about the frequencies being close together.
  • The DoT however, assured them that there would be no interference as the frequencies for commercial 5G services were at least 530 MHz away from those used by altimeters.
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